Whisky Barrel Chair

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Introduction: Whisky Barrel Chair

About: Woodworking gadget fan, photographer, husband, cyclist, kayaking SUP riding real ale drinker. More of this stuff is over at my Instagram.

I've been meaning to make an Adirondack chair for a while now. As an amateur woodworker I feel like it is a project that all makers must take on at some point.
While browsing Pinterest I stumbled across these chairs from Hungarian Workshop a company in California. This inspired me to get off the sofa, next thing I needed to do was find a barrel, this was done from the sofa 😁
I found a company that sells used whisky barrels, amazingly they were only 20 km (12.5 miles) up the road from home.


I picked up two barrels with the idea to make a chair for my wife and me.

These barrels have quite the story, they are originally made and used in the southern US for storing and ageing bourbon, after a year they are sent to Scotland where they are then used to age whisky for a further three years.

Step 1: Getting the Supplies Together

Supplies used...

1 x Oak whisky barrel
Box of 4x40 mm (1.57") Phillips screws
28 x M6x20 mm (1/4-28 x 0.79") insert nuts
28 x M6x20 mm (1/4-28 x 0.79") machine screws
14 x steel brackets, 3 mm x 40 mm x 110 mm (0.12" x 1.57" x 4.33") these will be bent to fit as required
500 ml (1 pint) of outdoor clear varnish

Step 2: Disassembling the Barrel

This was a fun bit of the project, I started by trying to knock the bands off the barrel but this was going nowhere fast.
As I wasn't planning on reusing the bands I decided to cut the bands off. Be warned, these bands are under quite a bit of tension and will spring off with quite a force when cut through.
Removing the last one is good fun though.
I used a 1 mm (0.039") zip disk in the angle grinder.

Step 3: Stave Clean-up

This step of the project was no fun at all.
MY WORD, IT'S MESSY.
Part of the process of bourbon and whisky making is that they are stored in burnt barrels.
Because these are pre-loved barrels the inside face of the staves are charred and the outside are rusty where the bands sat for years.
I removed as much of the charring as possible using a combination of wood and metal scrapers. Once this was done I moved to a sanding disk on an angle grinder.
My plan was to clean up the staves just enough to make them usable but still maintained the look of an old whisky barrel. As such I removed all the loose burning and the majority of the rust from the outside face. Around the top and bottom there were grooves called a croze, this had some paint and sealant in, I also cleaned most of this out with the sanding disk.

All this sanding makes a huge amount of dust, WEAR A MASK !


Step 4: Leg Layout

To make sure the chair had enough strength I picked four of the wider staves, these were to be parts shown in red and blue on the image, ignore the green parts as these are just to support the arms for layout purposes.
I wanted to make sure the seat was wide enough to be comfortable, so I sat and measured under my legs, this measured 450 mm, I added a bit and got 560 mm for the distance between the front legs.
The stave at the very front of the chair was screwed to the front upright legs with the Phillips screws. The excess was cut off with a Japanese pull saw. This was the first time I had cut one of the staves, the smell of the whisky was amazing, a beautiful smell.
The red legs weren't yet secured in place yet as I needed to figure out the seat.

Step 5: Back and Seat Layout

The next step was to decide on the layout for the back and seat.
This bit was tricky as I only had a couple of images to go off, none with measurements.
I wanted to make sure the seat fitted me (this was going to be my chair) so I sat on another chair with my feet flat on the ground and measured to the inside of my knee. This gave a measurement of 455 mm (1' 5⅞"), my seat height. I then measured from my the inside of my knee to my back, this was 435 mm (1' 5⅛") and my seat depth.
I was now able to choose the staves to use and set the seat layout.
FYI I'm 172.5 cm (5ft 8ins) and these measurements are spot on for me.

I made an error when screwing the seat staves onto the red legs, I originally used a single screw but this allowed the legs to skew, adding a second screw on each stave made it rock solid.
Now I had the seat in place I was able to attach the red to blue legs, this was done using one of the metal brackets. Each bracket was bent in my bench vice, set half in the jaws and 'tapped' with a hammer to shape.


The brackets are secured in place with the insert nuts. The M6 insert nuts I was using called for an 8 mm (0.31") wide 20 mm (0.79") deep hole. I put some tape around a brad point drill bit at 20 mm (0.79") to make sure I didn't drill too deep and go all the way through the staves.

Step 6: Adding Back and Arm Rests

Attaching the back in place was a tricky task. This was mainly due to the weight, on its own the back weights around 12 kg (26.5 lbs).
The bottom back cross member was fitted to the underside of the red using the insert nuts and bent metal brackets. I had originally used a single bracket on one side of the cross member, I later added a second bracket on the other side.
My aim was to maintain a 90º angle between the seat and back.

The arm rests themselves add a great deal of strength to the chair and also hold the back in place.
The height is set so that my arms are in a comfortable position and level when sat.
They are secured in place with a single bracket to the front blue leg and another bracket to the back support middle cross member.

Step 7: Horizontal Cross Brace

Although the seat was strong enough to sit on as it was I decided to add a horizontal cross brace between the front and curved back leg.
Again, this was secured in place with metal brackets. The angle between the cross brace and rear leg was tricky, so I made a quick template from a Cornflake box, I could then bend the bracket to exactly the correct angle.

Step 8: Varnish Finish

Up to this point every time you touched or sat in the seat you were covered in the black dust from the burnt wood. Also, the seat was due to be spending its life outdoors to I applied the outdoor varnish.
The legs and arms got three coats of varnish, the seat and back got four coats.
I picked the specific varnish I used because it had a drying time allowing only 4 hours between coats.

Step 9: In Its Final Home

Here's the finished chair in its final home.
It's pictured here next to my 'Bonsai' oak tree, fitting I thought as it's made from an oak barrel.

The good and bad thing is that this chair won't be blown around on the deck as it weighs around 50 kg (110 lbs).

Right... I'm off to make my wife's chair now.

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    34 Comments

    0
    scottblackwell02
    scottblackwell02

    Question 5 months ago on Step 4

    good morning. Beautiful chair! What are the finished deminsions? I just want to make sure this will fit on our porch before I try to make one...
    thank you!

    0
    Stevens Workshop
    Stevens Workshop

    Answer 5 months ago

    Hi Scott,
    It's 750 mm (2'6") wide at the arms, 930 mm (3") deep, front to back and stands 860 mm (2'10").
    You could quite easily make it a little narrower by reducing the number of staves in the back rest. I went with my build option because it made for a nice wide comfortable chair and also used every stave in the barrel.
    If you used fewer staves for the back you could use the spare to make a little side table.
    I would love to see your project when you're finished.

    Steve

    0
    scottblackwell02
    scottblackwell02

    Reply 5 months ago

    Thank you Steve. We picked up a barrel yesterday. I'll keep you posted!!

    0
    Stevens Workshop
    Stevens Workshop

    1 year ago

    My wife's chair is nearly done now too, just the varnishing to do and it will be ready for bottoms.
    I made a few design changes to this one that I think makes it work a little better.
    This one has stainless steel bracketry, a fan rather than the straight back and one special tweak to suit my wife, it has a wine glass holder cut into the arm.

    IMG_3545.jpgimg_3549.jpg
    0
    edosensei
    edosensei

    1 year ago

    Great job. I like to make Adirondack chairs from pallet wood but Whiskey Barrels seem pretty cool as well. Can I ask how much does it cost for an old barrel? One more thing as well...at the end you said you will next make your "wives" chair. I think you forgot the ' to show possession and then you might want to change the v to an f, unless you have more than one wife. :) Just joking....I'm a high school teacher so I notice things like that. Love the chair!!!

    0
    Stevens Workshop
    Stevens Workshop

    Reply 1 year ago

    Thank you for the comment 🙂 the chair is super comfortable.
    The barrel was £45 ($56), you might pick it up cheaper as the ones I got originally came from the US.
    Pallet wood sounds good as it has some nice flat edges, there wasn't a single flat edge on the barrel staves. Have you done an instructable on your pallet wood builds?
    As it happens I belong to a southern England cult that allows us to have 3 wives... No, just joking one wife is more than enough 🤣😂🤣

    0
    edosensei
    edosensei

    Reply 1 year ago

    Thanks for the reply. I'm glad you have a sense of humor. I have not done an instructable but maybe I should think about it. Below are a couple of projects I made from pallet wood. I made the chairs in 2015 and they are still strong as ever though much darker in color now. The picnic table was made from some 10ft pallets used for drywall. I got them from a construction site for free. :)
    Actually, I am American but I live in Japan. Maybe I can find some old sake barrels to make something out of. :)
    Keep up the good work and thank you for sharing!

    DSC04337.JPGPicnic Table.jpg
    0
    Stevens Workshop
    Stevens Workshop

    Reply 1 year ago

    Love those chairs, the arms and curve on the back are brill.
    I can't believe the size of that table and free is a huge bonus

    0
    LeslieGeee
    LeslieGeee

    1 year ago

    Steven, BEAUTIFUL. How old is your Bonsai, Good job on that too. One question please, Do you think you could make a rocker with the staves or is the oak too hard to re-bend for a better curve. Thinking that making new rockers with oak plywood might be better and to notch the legs to fit in the rockers.

    0
    Stevens Workshop
    Stevens Workshop

    Reply 1 year ago

    Hi Leslie,
    Thank you 😊
    The Bonsai is 16 years old and very special to me, when we moved into this house 16 years ago I mowed the front garden that was very over grown, I found this acorn with the tiniest little sprout coming out of it, this tree is that acorn.
    I don't think the staves would be long enough for the rockers on a chair although I guess you could put three together, two on the bottom for the rocker and the third on the top to join them together. I have only ever steam bent western red cedar. The oak is about 25 mm (1") think and I don't think would take a bend.
    One of my biggest issues with using the staves is that there isn't a straight edge anywhere, the inside is one radius, the outside another, the top and bottom taper out to the fat middle and the edges are angled too.
    I would love to see it if you do end up using staves for a rocker 👍
    Steven

    0
    LeslieGeee
    LeslieGeee

    Reply 1 year ago

    Hi Steve, Love the story about your tree. I am not sure I can find used barrels where I am even though we have a few wineries, so, making the chair may not happen. I just was thinking that your design would make a great rocker even if you used another kind of wood for the rockers. :)

    0
    Stevens Workshop
    Stevens Workshop

    Reply 1 year ago

    Wine barrels would acutally be a little easier as they aren't burnt before use. One of the biggest issues with the whisky barrel is how much mess it makes cleaning off the burning.

    0
    LeslieGeee
    LeslieGeee

    Reply 1 year ago

    Thank you for the info Steven, Maybe I can find barrels that are inexpensive.

    0
    Stevens Workshop
    Stevens Workshop

    Reply 1 year ago

    The place near me that sells them are £45 (US$ 56) but I have seen them online for £100+ (US$ 124).

    0
    warp.9.scotty
    warp.9.scotty

    Reply 1 year ago

    Nice project but I’m a little disappointed that step 1 isn’t “drink a barrel of whiskey.” 😜

    0
    Stevens Workshop
    Stevens Workshop

    Reply 1 year ago

    I'm very sorry to disappoint but I don't actually like whisky. Trouble is, it's difficult to make a chair from a real ale bottle 🤪